My dad's cheating on my mom...

Dear Alice,

I found out a few years ago that my dad has been having little affairs with other women. He has been meeting them on the internet, and there are at least two that I know of that he has actually met and been with in person. I have read some of the online conversations, and my dad says that he does not love my mom anymore, but I know that my mom still loves him. I can't understand how he could do this, or how the other women can go along with this knowing that he is married, has kids, a grandchild, and another grandchild on the way. I love my dad, and we have always gotten along great. I want to confront him about this, but I cannot get up enough nerve to do it. I am the only one that knows about this; I have no one to talk to about this and I don't know what I should do. I want my dad to know that I know what has been going on, but I don't want to confront him in person, and an e-mail seems too cowardish. Do you have any advice on what I should do? I would greatly appreciate it.


Knows too much

Dear Knows too much,

It's clear you're upset about your dad "having little affairs" outside of his marriage to your mom. You also seem committed to letting your dad know that you’re aware of his behaviors and you’re struggling to understand how he could act this way. You mentioned that you don’t prefer email, but you’re too nervous to talk to him in person. While it may be easier to choose a less direct route like sending him a letter or asking someone else to tell him, it might be more effective to tell him what you’re thinking and feeling in person. Consider picking a quiet, private time to talk. Though it could be a difficult conversation to have in person, it allows you to read body language, ask questions, and get your point of view heard. Before you talk to him, though, a few things you may want to sort out include the goals you hope to achieve, the mode of communication, and the tone you’ll want to use. Moreover, it may also be wise to consider how each of you may react, and the impact it may have on your relationship. Thinking through these points may better prepare you for what could be a difficult conversation.

First, what do you hope to accomplish through this conversation? Is it simply that you want him to know that you know? Do you want an explanation for why he’s having affairs? Do you want him to take responsibility for his actions? Do you want him to know that his actions don’t fit his roles as a father, husband, and grandfather? Having a clear sense of the goal can help you better frame the conversation and stay on point when you do have it. Once you've decided on what you want to accomplish, you may want to think about how you’re going to tell him.

It’s also good to think about the tone you want to use for this conversation. Because you want to maintain your relationship with your father, consider focusing your conversation on how his behaviors are causing you discomfort, while letting him know you still love him. Using “I” statements might help you express your feelings in a non-threatening or accusatory way towards your father. It'll also be helpful for you to imagine how you and your dad might react to this very personal and, potentially, embarrassing confrontation. Do you think you’ll get upset during the conversation? Will he be nervous or angry, or maybe even speechless? Thinking through these reactions may help you plan on how you will handle any conflict, if it arises.

Knows too much, you might also want to think about how this confrontation might be like for you and how it may ultimately affect your relationship with your dad. What would it be like for you to tell him how hurt and confused you are about his secretive behaviors? How can you let him know that you still cherish your relationship with him, despite your feelings about what he's doing? After you’ve shared what you’re feeling with him, how will you both move forward and maintain your relationship or how might it change? The answers to these questions may help you further strategize for this conversation and help you mentally prepare for what may result.

The hard reality of this situation is that no amount of preparedness and strategy will take away all of the stress you're feeling. This is an emotionally challenging situation and you find yourself hard-pressed to understand your dad actions. It may be helpful to have someone to help you process your emotions and perhaps even help you prepare for this confrontation, even though you don't seem too fond of the idea of sharing these feelings and thoughts with others. It's great that you’re reaching out for advice; moving forward though, it might help to enlist the support of some non-family members as you navigate through this tough time.

Last updated Aug 05, 2016
Originally published Sep 22, 2006

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